Sony Style Holidays 1999

Actress Milla Jovovich: Arc of Triumph

The Ukraine-born beauty began modeling at 11 and released her first album at 18. Now, at 23 she's starring in her most challenging role yet: Joan of Arc

"I'm so morbid with myself," confesses Milla Jovovich. "I keep imagining that horrible things will happen to me." The actor-model-musician is explaining why she's knocking on wood - in this case an antique coffee table in the lobby of Los Angeles' famed Chateau Marmont hotel. Jovovich, all of 23 years old, has already had more than her share of success, but she's not taking any of it for granted. So whenever she talks about her future, she knocks on wood.

The multitalented Jovovich shouldn't have to worry. By age 12, she was posing for countless magazine covers. At 18, she released a critically acclaimed album, The Divine Comedy, on which she sang and wrote her own songs. Her acting career took off at age 15 when she starred in Return to the Blue Lagoon, and she later had a minor role in the stoner flick Dazed and Confused. Jovovich has played increasingly complex roles since then, including the prostitute Dakota Burns in Spike Lee's He Got Game and the flame-haired alien Leeloo in Luc Besson's futuristic thriller The Fifth Element.

Now, in Besson's latest film, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Jovovich is starring in her most challenging role yet. She wasn't intimidated at the thought of portraying the 15th-century French martyr because of her confidence in Besson's direction. "He has such an incredible mind that I had no fear."

Jovovich prepared for the part by reading the transcripts from Joan's 1431 trial and by taking months of horseback riding lessons (with and without her armor). She also learned to do almost all of her own stunts and took voice lessons to get rid of what she calls her "nasal" Los Angeles dialect, a girlish voice that sounds distinctly Californian when she peppers her speech with "man" and "dude."

In person, Jovovich is an open, honest woman who feels things deeply. Her eyes, the color of lightly tinted blue glass, sparkle when she recites a favorite scene from the hilarious 1996 mockumentary Waiting for Guffman, and she can point out goose bumps on her arms when she describes one of her favorite songs, "River Guard," by an underground singer-songwriter known as Smog.

Besson and Jovovich married in December 1997, but the two separated about 16 months later. They're still best friends, says Jovovich. "I don't know what I'd do without him at this point; he's such an important part of my life." And she is grateful that he trusted her with the role of Joan. In the film, Jovovich shows few traces of supermodel glamour when she is swept away by visions and passionately leads her troops.

Jovovich looks to be at least five centuries away from Joan's bloodstained armor as she sits at the Marmont in a green corduroy skirt, hot-pink tank top and purple velour jacket, sipping a strawberry shake and smoking Marlboro Lights. Yet she says she'll always be affected by the experience of playing the role of "this strange creature" who created chaos as she went from peasant girl to army leader to heretic burned at the stake. "Playing a role like that changes you. It makes you look at yourself differently. It gave me more confidence in myself and what I'm capable of doing."


The role of Joan has also changed Jovovich's musical career. "I'm taking so many more risks onstage - improvising, scatting, doing funny crazy staff." She's hoping to have another album ready by the summer of 2000. Jovovich describes her hand's sound as "jazz rock. It's sort of spacey and atmospheric, sort of weird, sort of unpleasant at times, but we're working on it."

The band's name is as hard to pin down as its sound. "It has been called 'Absurd Bird' and last week it was 'Plastic Has Memory.' Next week it might be called something else," she says matter-of-factly. Jovovich is the group's songwriter and singer. "It's honest. It's just me. Nobody's giving me direction. I can't always be somebody else's muse. I need to be my own person."

Her need for independence affects the way she writes songs. Jovovich loves to take solo drives in her Cadillac, sometimes for seven hours at a time, because that gives her time to contemplate new ideas.

"The time when your brain is most fluid is when you're not trying to think," says Jovovich. "When you're washing dishes, or cleaning your room or driving, that's when your brain is most free. I tend to do chores or drive - things that keep me busy - so my brain can go."

As if acting, modeling and music weren't enough, Jovovich's interests also include photography, writing and fashion design. And one day she'd like to start a movie production company. Jovovich says her modeling career gives her the financial freedom to choose her music and movie projects, but she doubts that modeling can last forever. "That's why I'm working hard on my music, on my writing, taking pictures, anything that has nothing to do with being in front of the camera," she explains.

Jovovich got her work ethic from her parents who moved from Ukraine to California when she was five years old. As immigrants in a strange land, they strived for success. "I am a hard worker. That's the Russian in me coming out."

Now she plans to expand her range as an actress. 'I'm constantly playing 'out of society' roles," she says, pointing to her work as an alien, a prostitute and now a peasant girl who hears supernatural voices. "I want to do something a bit more down to earth. I want to play a normal girl. I am a normal girl. Unfortunately everybody looks at me as this weirdo."

Jovovich can no doubt play any character she sets her mind to, but it's hard to imagine the precocious beauty will ever be anything as boring as "normal" in real life. Knock on wood.

Milla also appeared (clip from Joan of Arc) on page 39 in this ad/write-up for Sony's Digital Reality Creation TVs.